Sunday, October 30, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Brandon Chillar and Drew Wahlroos grew up in the same area of San Diego, playing against each other in high school and sharing the dream of one day making a big play on the NFL stage.

Little did they know that one day they would be doing just that, only with the help of one another.

With 12:56 left in the first quarter, the Jaguars dropped back into punt formation. Chris Hanson handled the snap fine, but the Rams brought the all out block at him and Jacksonville didn’t have enough to block all of the pressure.

The up man picked up Mike Furrey, allowing Wahlroos to come unabated and block the kick. Chillar scooped it up and ran 29 yards for a touchdown and a kick 7-0 lead.

“Me and him are both San Diego guys,” Wahlroos said. “Our teams played against each other in high school and it’s great to see him score. It’s exciting for us to give the team a spark like that.”

For the second week in a row, the Rams’ oft-maligned special teams got the team off to a good start. Earlier in the season cornerback Chris Johnson returned a kickoff for a touchdown and last week the unit came up with a blocked field goal.

The turnaround on special teams has been a direct reflection of energetic coach Bob Ligashesky and a welcome respite from the struggles of recent years.

“For two weeks in a row, special teams really won the game for us,” coach Joe Vitt said. “Outstanding.”

That’s a far cry from the unit that has plagued this team, especially last season. Slowly, but surely it appears that the special teams has gone from weakness to modest to a strength of a team in desperate need of plays.

With so many of the Rams’ best offensive players out with injury, most of the talk has been centered on the defense’s need to come up with big plays. Left behind, though, was the special teams. That unit has ensured that is isn’t forgotten, though.

“When you are fighting the injuries we are fighting and we are missing the key personnel we are missing, you have got to make plays somewhere else and today they sparked it for us,” running back Steven Jackson said.

The play was extra special for Ligashesky, who came to the Rams after spending time with the Jaguars as an assistant.

MY NAME IS MAXIMUS: Vitt has proved to be one tough coach, often displaying his Jersey attitude with a variety of brash, blunt statements. But for as old school as Vitt might be, he isn’t afraid to implement some techniques to reach his young players.

Before the Indianapolis game Vitt broke out the Monday Night Football theme music during a practice. Prior to last week’s New Orleans game, he showed the team the tape of former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano’s inspirational ESPY’s speech.

This week, though, he really got the team fired up in Saturday’s team meeting by showing it a clip from the movie Gladiator.

“It was crazy,” Furrey said. “It was like, let’s go. Let’s go right now. Coach got up and said, I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow, but we were hoping to go out and play right away. He has stepped up, he has stepped up huge and it’s been good for us.”

Vitt showed the scene where Maximus Decimus Meridius (played by Russell Crowe) rallies the other gladiators to take on the barbarians in one of the first battles at the arena in Rome.

Crowe rallies the troops by telling them that “Whatever comes out of these gates, we have got a better chance of survival if we work together. Do you understand? If we stay together, we survive!”

No word yet on whether Patton or Animal House will work its way into the rotation.

VITT CLEANUP: Vitt will have a minor procedure Monday morning that is meant to clear up some blocking in an artery according to a source close to the team.

Vitt has had the procedure, believed to be an angioplasty scheduled for awhile and with the bye week coming this week, the timing seemed right. Vitt should be fine and isn’t expected to miss much time. As of Sunday night, he planned on attempting to make it to his Monday press conference, but his status won’t be determined until tomorrow morning.

POISON IVY: With cornerbacks Travis Fisher and Chris Johnson out because of injury, Corey Ivy and Ronald Bartell are the pair that has been asked to play in their place.

Ivy and Bartell proved to be up the task Sunday against Jacksonville. The Jaguars have a variety of big receivers, including Ernest Wilford, Jimmy Smith and Matt Jones.

Ivy certainly doesn’t have the size of those receivers, he is favorably listed at 5’10, but he is one of the better competitors on the team and refuses to back down from a challenge.

“I expected them to come after me,” Ivy said. “They are a good team with a lot of good weapons. We have just got to go out there and play sound defense. I have 10 other guys with me out there that aren’t going to let me down, so I just have to hold up my part of the deal.”

Ivy did that plenty, leading the team with eight tackles in unofficial press box statistics and getting enough pressure on Jacksonville quarterback Byron Leftwich to force a poor throw on the fourth down play that helped ice the game.

“I had been waiting for that blitz all day and coach dialed it up in a critical situation and they didn’t have enough people to block it so we just capitalized on the opportunity,” Ivy said.

PENALTY PROBLEMS: The Rams committed a variety of bad penalties last week against the Saints, including Damione Lewis’ punch to the groin of LeCharles Bentley.

Things were so bad that the Rams brought in a pair of referees during practice last week to help them correct the problems. It didn’t appear that those problems were erased by those changes, as the Rams had eight infractions for 44 yards in the first half.

Right tackle Alex Barron struggled the most, committing three penalties in a row at one point in the second quarter. But the Rams corrected those problems in the second half, committing just one more penalty the rest of the way.

“I think we had only one in the second half,” Vitt said. “This was just something that we talked about all week long in practice. All the officials we had out there, we tried to emphasize playing mistake free football and not killing ourselves. That was encouraging (in the second half).”